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Portrait of Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

Ca. 1816
Origin: Virginia, Kentucky, or Tennessee
Other (unframed): 30 x 24 1/4in. (76.2cm) Framed: 35 13/16 x 29 3/4 x 3 3/8in. (91 x 75.6 x 8.6cm)
Oil on canvas
Museum Purchase
Acc. No. 1938-136,A&C
Half-length portrait of Thomas Jefferson, seated at a table, holding his manuscript of "Notes on Virginia" in his right proper hand. Red drapery behind his right proper shoulder. Subject wears a white shirt with high collar, a white single-breasted waistcoat with plain white cloth buttons and high collar, plain black coat with high collar and black pants. Subject has gray hair and blue eyes. In reproduction frame.
Label:Jefferson is best known for drafting the Declaration of Independence and serving as the nation’s third president, but he also authored a book. The unidentified artist of this painting chose to depict Jefferson holding the large volume titled Notes on the State of Virginia, the only full-length book the patriot published in his lifetime. Interestingly, it was issued in Paris in 1785 and then in England. The first American edition did not appear until 1788.

Due to Jefferson’s fame, his portrait was painted often. Printed versions of those likenesses circulated widely. This portrait was likely based on an engraving by J. B. Neagle, which was in turn taken from a painting by Bass Otis. The unidentified artist of this image added the drapery and chair details, implying an understanding of artistic conventions. The painted initials “M.S.” on the cover of the book may refer to its owner or the portrait’s patron. Both sides of the family in which the portrait descended had surnames that began with the letter “S.”
Provenance:Knoedler & Co. of NY, from "Grandaughter of John J. Shields" of Pennsylvania and Kentucky. The painting was the property of either John J. Shields or his son B. F. Shields of Nashville. If the latter, he may have purchased it from John Bell of Tennessee. See file.
Mark(s):None found.